Dark Fire

Dark Fire

The crux is that the vast majority of the mass of the universe seems to be missing. -William J. Broad

Cosmologists have a problem. According to their observations and calculations, our universe should have significantly more matter and energy than they are able to perceive. They have termed these mysterious forces as “dark matter” and “dark energy” though they frankly don’t know what either of these things might be. They estimate that dark matter and dark energy respectively make up as much as 26.8% and 68.3% of our known universe (together 95.1%!). The cosmos that our puny brains and science can currently observe and define makes up less than 5% of the composition of our universe.

In this regard, more than one hundred years ago, Rabbi Hirsch comments on the 3,000 year old passage in Deuteronomy 33:2. He touches on his own divine cosmological explanation, with a term the sages called “dark fire.” It is an unseen power that is responsible for everything in our universe (think of Star Wars’ “the Force”) and in my opinion, might even account for some of the mass and energy that modern science is unable to perceive or measure. However, what is most interesting about Rabbi Hirsch’s description is that man is the only creature that may actually have some say, some control, on how this unseen, elemental force plays a role in his life:

 “Esh (fire) is the force that generates movement, change and life in all physical creations; the dark, invisible fire, as our Sages call it, through which the eternal, God-given laws for the universe are fulfilled. These laws operate in all creatures without their being aware of them, and independently of their will. But these same laws, established and willed by God, the Supreme Consciousness and Will, and operating through the almighty power of His will, are to work differently with man, the creature called upon to exercise moral free will. In the case of man, God’s Law is not to operate from within him, without his conscious will; it is to come to him from without, so that, out of his own free volition, he may absorb it in his mind and will.”

Rabbi Hirsch then draws a parallel between this dark fire and the Torah. He posits that the Torah is somehow “fire-become-law”, a humanly comprehensible insight and access into some of these elemental forces. By fulfilling God’s Law we can take conscious control of these powers as well as our own personal destinies.

We no longer need a Jedi Master to instruct us as to the workings of the universe. All its secrets might be found in the Torah.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,



To the memory of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, whose powerful commentary has accompanied us this entire year.

Pre-Incarnated Unity



 The soul gives unity to what it looks at with love. -Thomas Carlyle


At what was perhaps the most transcendent moment in human history, God reveals Himself to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments are uttered and God gives the remainder of the Written and Oral Torah to Moses. Every single one of the Children of Israel who was alive at that time, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, hears and senses God at prophetic levels.

There follows a question as to how this bond, this covenant that was formed at Sinai can continue through the long generations and millennia since that singular event. What connects, what unites the descendants of those who stood at Sinai with the ancestors who witnessed the barely filtered presence of God?

Amongst many answers, a popular one is that the soul of every Jew was at Sinai, even if he hadn’t been born yet. Somehow, at this defining event for the Jewish people, every Jewish soul, alive as well as unborn, through all the generations, was present for the receipt of the Torah, for the establishment of the everlasting covenant with God.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 33:3 adds another facet to this well known explanation. He elaborates that not only was the soul of every future Jew in history present at Sinai, but that even the souls of future converts were present at the encounter. That the truth is that their souls were there as well, and heard and received the Torah. When they convert, they are merely reconnecting and reclaiming that spiritual heritage that was rightfully theirs from so long ago, where we all accepted the divine mission as one united people.

May our souls re-accept the Torah on a regular basis.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To the unifying Sukah of the Lefler family.

Stolen Inheritance

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vezot-habracha-stolen-inheritance/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

Stolen Inheritance

You may not be able to leave your children a great inheritance, but day by day, you may be weaving coats for them which they will wear for all eternity.  -Theodore L. Cuyler

Jewish education starts at the youngest possible age. We start by teaching children verses from the Bible, often with a melody. One of the first verses and perhaps one of the most important ones is from Deuteronomy 33:4:

“The Torah was commanded to us by Moses, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.”

There is something fundamental about the fact that Moses transmitted the words of God to us. And there is something equally important about the Torah being our inheritance.

The Netziv explains this verse further and states that not only is the Torah, Jewish law and tradition our inheritance, not only is it central to Jewish life and continuity, but whoever withholds the transmission of Jewish jurisprudence from their students is as if they are stealing their inheritance.

Parents have not only the responsibility, but the obligation to pass on the chain of tradition to their children. And if their own parents failed in that transmission, it does not absolve them of reclaiming that treasure and passing it on to future generations. It is woefully true that in many families the chain has been broken. Lip service is paid to our Jewish heritage. The most minimal, superficial, watered-down aspects of Judaism is sometimes all that remains. There is so much more!

Let us not be the generation that let the chain remain broken. Let us reforge the chain. Let us insure a Jewish tomorrow for our families. It starts with education.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To Ronit Stolovas and Nadia Dzimalkowski who have taken upon themselves the coordination of meals for the Uruguayan Shabbos Project – the biggest communal education project of the year.

¡Viva la Constitución!

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomio: Vezot Habraja

united states constitution 

¡Viva la Constitución!

“Hay algo detrás del trono más grande que el propio rey.”-William Pitt

Desde el comienzo de la civilización, los reyes y gobernantes han sido una parte necesaria de la cadena alimentaria de organización jerárquica. Una vez que la comunidad, la sociedad o el país alcanza un cierto tamaño y sofisticación, es necesario que haya una persona para hacerse cargo del grupo. Para la mayoría de la historia, esa persona era un rey.

Sin embargo, ser nacido en Estados Unidos y en su mayoría educado en Estados Unidos tengo una afinidad especial e incluso el amor a la constitución de los EE.UU. La constitución consagra y codifica la supremacía de los principios más de personalidades y se ha evitado la mayoría de los excesos que son la norma de los déspotas. Hay algo más grande que el gobernante designado.

Ibn Ezra en Deuteronomio 33:5 establece una conexión relacionada. La Torá en el versículo habla de un rey, pero Ibn Ezra explica que en realidad está aludiendo a la Torá misma. No sólo la majestad, la nobleza, la grandeza, la necesidad y el requisito de tener, respetar y honrar la Torá, sino también la supremacía que la Torá debe tener en nuestras vidas. La Torá es el jefe, la Torá es la que toma las decisiones. La Torá, sus principios y las instrucciones son las que tenemos que seguir, más que cualquier burócrata designado o de la personalidad real.

Que podamos encontrar los principios regios de la Torá que se aplican a nosotros y les rinden homenaje adecuado.


Para la Torá. Que podamos bailar con ella con felicidad y alegría (y no embriaguez …)

Long Live the Constitution

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vezot-habrachah-long-live-the-constitution/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

Long Live the Constitution

“There is something behind the throne greater than the King himself.” -William Pitt The Elder Chatham

Since the beginning of civilization, kings and rulers have been a necessary part of the hierarchical and organizational food chain. Once the community, society or country reaches a certain size and sophistication, there needs to be one person taking charge of the group. For the majority of history, such a person was a King.

However, being American-born and mostly American-educated I have a special affinity and even love for the U.S. constitution. It enshrines and codifies the supremacy of principles over personalities and has mostly averted the excesses that are the norm of despots. There is something greater than the appointed ruler.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 33:5 makes a related connection. The Torah in the verse speaks of a King, but Ibn Ezra explains that it is really alluding to the Torah itself. Not only the majesty, the nobility, the grandeur, the necessity and the requirement of having, respecting and honoring the Torah, but also the supremacy that Torah should have in our lives. The Torah is the boss, the Torah is the one calling the shots. The Torah, its principles and instructions are the ones we need to follow, more so than any appointed bureaucrat or royal personality.

May we find the kingly principles of the Torah that apply to us and pay them proper homage.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,



To the Torah. May we dance with it in joy (and not drunkenness…)

International House of Prayer

[Previously posted at The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/international-house-of-prayer/]

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

 International House of Prayer

“For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” -Isaiah 56:7

There is much written in the Bible, the Talmud and later Rabbinic literature as to the place of the Jewish people amongst the nations. One of the most direct lines is God’s statement that the Jews shall become “a nation of priests” (Kohanim). Many of us are familiar with the term “Kohen” (priest) and the exalted status they have in Jewish history and society. However, what many may have forgotten is that the root of the word, the formative verb, is “lekhahen” (to serve).

Simply put, the nation of Israel is meant to serve the nations of the world. To be a beacon of wisdom, morality, justice and kindness. Not a far off, distant light that gives no warmth, but a close, approachable hearth that welcomes those that wish to warm themselves and learn and share in our experiences. To set an example of families, communities and hopefully a country worth emulating. To assist others in connecting to our positive values and historic lessons.

The Ohr Hachayim (on Deuteronomy 33:7) goes even further in his analysis. Not only is there a need by the nations of the world for the Jewish people, there is a symbiotic and even an eschatologically (look it up…) dependent relationship. Jews need the Gentiles and cannot fulfill their mission without them. The most poignant example, the one that the Ohr Hachayim highlights, is the story of Ruth the Moabite (see my ongoing novelization).

He claims that while the tribe of Judah was destined to produce the king of Israel, that destiny would never come to play until the Gentile, Ruth the Moabite, brought her unique spark to the people of Israel. Only then could Jewish and world history follow its course and lead to a better future.

May we live to see Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled, that the House of God in Jerusalem shall truly be a House of Prayer for all the nations.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



 To my Gentile friends and readers. You are sparks that I’m honored to glean much light from.

The Teacher’s Sacrifice

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

The Teacher’s Sacrifice

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.” -Aristotle

Jewish law dictates significant esteem and honor to ones teacher – sometimes above that of a parent. In our current age such a concept may seem unfathomable. How can this often minimum-wage earner, this socio-economic struggler, this stranger who lectures us, this quasi-professional who may not be qualified to otherwise participate in the workforce be placed on a pedestal above the people who brought us into the world?

As a student, I was subjected to a plethora of mediocre and perhaps even lousy teachers, with a sprinkling of good ones. Once every few years I would cross paths with an extraordinary and even inspiring teacher. I feel their impact to this day. I am now privileged to live in a community with an inordinately high percentage of teachers. I find most of these teachers to be passionate, dedicated and inspiring (and easily qualified to have chosen any profession they may have desired). However, the Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 33:9) hints at the price they pay – and he is not referring to the financial one.

Moses blesses the tribes in his final speech. The Tribe of Levi was apparently destined to be a tribe of teachers, instructing the Children of Israel as to God’s Laws. To the Levites Moses states the following hard-to-understand line:

“Who said of his father, and of his mother: ‘I have not seen them’; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew he his own children.”

The Kli Yakar explains that these Levite/Teachers are so committed to their studies; they are so absorbed in their teaching profession, that they simply have insufficient time for their family. Not for their parents, not for their siblings and not even for their own children.

This is unfortunately not an uncommon phenomenon among teaching families.

May we all, teacher and non-teachers alike find the right work/family balance and may we also remember that our family are perhaps our most important students.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatimah Tovah,



To all the teachers in my life. Thank you.